Jackie Kay, Edinburgh Book Festival and that pesky issue of class.

Last week, I attended two events featuring Jackie Kay at the Edinburgh Book Festival. She read from her new poetry collection Bantam, which as brilliant as her previous anthologies. I first heard Kay read from her collection Fiere at the Feminist & Woman’s Studies Association conference’ Rethinking Sisterhood conference in 2014. She quickly became my favourite poet; and, at that point, the only poet I liked since my sole previous introductions to poetry were the stale male crap I had to read in school.  Kay is funny, witty, compassionate and so very, very generous. She is also utterly glorious in joy when reading her own work to audiences.

I could gush for ages about Kay, the beauty of Bantam, as well the discussion with Ruth Wishart at the Book Festival. There were some great questions from audience members, however the audience response to one question surprised me. A woman stood up to ask a question and started with the statement “this is a very middle class room”. I didn’t think this was too odd as a statement, but many people in the audience did not appreciate the generalisation and shut down the questioner completely. Now, Kay did say that we can’t ever generalise about audiences and spoke of all the ways she has developed to ensure that her writing is available to as many people as possible, regardless of issues like class.* Her tenure as Scottish Makar has seen her traipse up and down the country visiting all manner of places and pieces. Kay is absolutely dedicated to building generations of people who understand what Audre Lorde meant when she wrote ‘Poetry is not a luxury.’ However,  the Edinburgh Book Festival is a very middle class event. Tickets cost 12 quid, which  is not an insignificant amount of money for many people, and that is without factoring in transport to and from the venue or the fact that I paid 2 quid for a bottle of water having left my refillable one at home.** Having a spare 15-20 quid lying about to go to a book festival is well outwith the budgeting of many Scottish families.

The term ‘middle class’  is now understood as a pejorative defining someone whose access to wealth and cultural capital makes them blind to the reality of lives of many people. And, many of the audience members making negative noises in response to the term were doing so in order to disassociate themselves with the negative definition rather than addressing the barriers to participation in culture that many people live with every single day. Had the question been: ‘this audience is full of people who aren’t dependent on food banks’, perhaps fewer people would have taken it as an insult rather a description of an event where money is essential for participation. However it was intended to mean, Edinburgh Book Festival is open to people who have the capacity to save money to buy tickets.

In a perfect world, book festivals  would be open to all people, but this isn’t a perfect world and the number of families dependent on food banks is expanding exponentially. But,1 in 3 children in Scotland live in poverty. Many other families live pay check to pay check . They live in areas with no accessible and affordable transport. School budgets have been decimated and trips to a book festival are the things that get cut first, despite being such an incredible enriching experience for children. Far too many adults are dependent on food banks to eat at least once a day. Charities are trying to feed children during school holidays to ensure they get fed at least once a day. Children are raising money to ensure that homeless people have dry socks; that we have people who are homeless or living in insecure accommodations is a disgrace. This is what we need to acknowledge and change.

Granted, language does change and many people who are middle class and wealthy are thoroughly unpleasant – as the support for Brexit makes clear. However, we cannot simply erase the original economic definition of the term middle class, not without erasing the lived experiences of people living in poverty or very close to the poverty line. We need to be clear what the full definition of middle class is and be very careful in how we apply it to specific situations and people. Using ‘middle class’ solely as pejorative is why several hundred people sitting in a marquee in Edinburgh during the various summer festivals (and without considering whether or not they are tourists who can afford to pay for hotels and meals out) immediately hissed at a woman pointing out the very real consequence of class analysis. Middle class is now ‘bad’, so no one is middle class – even those who fit the exact definition of the term in a Marxian sense. Frankly, more people need to get a grip and stop having minor tantrums when the truth of their economic status is pointed it. We need a return to a structural analysis of capitalism and a recognition that we can’t just identify ourselves out, particularly since the ‘no one’s middle class here’ noises were understood, by some, as a personal attack rather than structural analysis.

We cannot talk about the representation of people attending cultural events without starting from the point that it will always be closed to some people because we live in a society that punishes people for being poor. It really is this simple: economic class does exist and understanding it solely as a pejorative replicates the very behaviours and consequences that many activists think they’re challenging.

Poetry should never be a luxury; book festivals should never be a luxury. But, they are. And we need to be honest about why they are a luxury, not hissing at people who point out the truth

* This had come up in answer to a previous question.

** My medication means I don’t produce much saliva and occasionally have difficulty swallowing. No one wants to sit next to a woman who sounds like she’s choking up a lung because she has a cactus growing in her mouth.

Susan Brownmiller, Angela Davis, & the erasure of Black Feminist Activism

Susan Brownmiller’s Against Our Will is one of the most important texts in the history of women’s liberation. There is no debate on its impact on the so-called second wave* feminist movement and on women being able to speak their truth. All movements for social justice need to understand their history in order to create their future. This does not mean we need to see foundational texts like Against Our Will as perfect. Unfortunately, Rachel Cooke’s interview with Susan Brownmiller, published last month in The Guardian, falls into the trap of refusing to acknowledge that our ‘foundational’ texts are not only not perfect but also not written only by white women:

Against Our Will finally came out in 1975, five long years after the first of the key texts of women’s liberation: Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics and Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex. Though it would later be attacked by, among others, the black activist Angela Davis for its attitudes to race (in his piece, Remnick writes that Brownmiller’s treatment of the Emmett Till case “reads today as morally oblivious”), its reception was mostly positive and it became a bestseller (much later, with pleasing neatness, it would be included in the New York Public Library’s Books of the Century).

Calling Angela Davis a Black activist rather than a Black Feminist Activist is deeply problematic. Davis was/ is a significant theorist and activist in the feminist movement. Her book Women, Race & Classfirst published in 1981, is as radical and essential text as Against Our Will, Sexual Politics, The Dialectic of Sex, and The Feminine Mystique. The erasure of the term ‘feminist’ here implies that Davis’ critique was rude and unnecessary; that the experience of women of colour should only be spoken of in terms of sexism, and not the racism (or classism, disabilism or lesbophobia) that women experience. Failing to include the term feminist here doesn’t just imply that Davis isn’t a ‘real’ feminist, it completely erases her from the feminist movement.

The use of the term  ‘attack’ rather than critical engagement reinforces the idea that Davis’ response was rude and unnecessary.  Considering the fact that Emmett Till’s accuser has admitted to lying about Till wolf whistling at her, the insinuation here that Davis is the problem rather than Brownmiller’ representation of the murder of a teenage boy for the crime of being African-American is very concerning.

Firstly we need to stop using words like ‘attack’ to define discussion within the feminist movement. Critical engagement, debate, and self-reflection are essential to all social justice movements. No one should be above criticism and apologising is not a sign of weakness.

Yet, somehow we’ve arrived at a point where we split women into 2 categories: those we put on a pedestal and are absolutely banned from critiquing because they are ‘important’ and those whose work we must NEVER EVER read for fear of our brains imploding. Or, something equally ridiculous. This dichotomy plays straight into the hands of misogynists: we’re so busy back pedalling and apologising that we no longer recognise feminists as women. Women who make mistakes. Women who say stupid shit. Women who say deeply offensive things (and if they are on the pedestal we are definitely not allowed to mention the offensive language and actions). We don’t allow room for women to grow and change as actual human beings.

I am not arguing here for an erasure of past abusive comments, theories and actions or the dismissal of feminist texts which are deeply problematic. We need to acknowledge our actions and the negative consequences these had for other women. We also need to acknowledge that women can grow and change; that the true liberation of women will not happen if we ignore our history. Erasing Angela Davis from the feminist movement in order to protect Susan Brownmiller’s feelings and legacy are not the actions of women who are committed to feminist theory and activism. Against Our Will can be a seminal feminist text and be representative of the erasure of racism from feminist history. These positions are not a dichotomy. They are the true history of the feminist movement, where challenges from within are essential to the success of the movement.

Angela Davis is a Black feminist activist and academic. She did not ‘attack’ Susan Brownmiller. Davis simply demanded that the experience of Black women be recognised as reality; that sexism does not trump the intersecting oppressions experienced by women.

 

Further Reading:

Patricia Hill Collins & Sirma Bilge, Intersectionality, (Polity Press, 2016).

Angela Davis, Women, Race & Class, (Random House, 1981).

Bell Hooks, Feminism is for Everybody, (Pluto Press, 2000)

Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Feminism Without Borders: Decolonising Theory, Practicing Solidarity, (Duke University Press, 2003)

Cherry Moraga & Gloria Anzaldua, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Colour, (New York Press, 2015)

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective, (Haymarket Books, 2017).

 

 

* I prefer Liz Kelly’s theory of feminism as a tapestry which all feminists (and now womanists) create and recreate by adding new threads and undoing that which is now understood to be problematic, rather than feminism as a series of ‘waves’.

Feminist Superhero Films we actually need.

Since DC’s  painful attempts at live action Superman, Justice League and Suicide Squad films, I’ve been telling everyone, and their cat, that Batman and Superman need to go. They are trite and whiny. And, unbearably smug and pretentious. Joker just needs to die.

Last week, I saw Black Panther with my daughter and two friends. The women in this film were incredible, brilliant, funny, intelligent and strong; characteristics that are missing in far too many superhero films where women are sidekicks and love interests. The difference between Black Panther and other superhero films is immense. We need more films like this rather another ‘woman as sidekick’ film like  Marvel’s Antman & Wasp. I was hoping they would break tradition and have a solo Wasp film where she rescues her mother, since Antman should be the annoying sidekick, not a character worthy of subsequent solo films.

So here is my lists of female superhero films to follow the solo Captain Marvel film , scheduled for 2019, and the rumoured solo Black Widow film in the works too.

The Solo Films: 

1. Storm – This needs to start with an apology from the fools in charge of X-Men Apocalypse who made her evil. Storm is not evil. Storm would never join a man/ God bent on the destruction of humanity. She is a teacher, midwife, and the true heart of the X-Men. Without Storm, the X-Men would have few redeeming characteristics since the men are all whiny and self-absorbed. She is their centre: powerful, strong and compassionate. I’m not going to get into Wolverine’s constant sexual harassment of Jean Grey, but Storm was far too forgiving in not accidentally losing Wolverine in a hurricane. On a different planet.

2. Batgirl: Any of the recent Batgirls would work.  Barbara Gordon is the best name for a solo film, but Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown would be excellent too.

3. Hellcat: After the books. Of course

4. Ms Marvel (Kamila Khan): Follows the comic books. Obviously.

5. America Chavez: the origins film. Possibly where Captain America actually dies (if they let him live in Infinity Wars).

6. Iron Heart: Because any more of Tony Stark whining will make my head explode. He’s a dick. In every film. Literally, his only moment of actual humanity is in his relationship with Spiderman. Which is about 7 films too late.

7. Shuri: Because she is incredible. And totally smarter than Tony Stark.

Team Films

1. Ms Marvel (Kamila Khan), America Chavez and Iron Heart team up with Wakanda’s Nakia, Okoye and Shuri to end the trafficking of women and children throughout the galaxy.

https://generationwhy2016blog.wordpress.com/2016/10/16/ms-marvel/

2. Harley Quinn, Posion Ivy & the Birds of Prey team up to kill Joker – and then Harley marries Poison Ivy. Oracle performs the ceremony and then they work together to end male violence against women and girls across the galaxies, recognising gaslighting and coercive control as criminal acts.

https://generationwhy2016blog.wordpress.com/2017/05/12/poison-ivy-harley-quinn-get-married/

3. A Justice League film without the tedious whinging of Batman & Superman. Preferably they are both dead although I’d tolerate a fallen into a different time stream/ alternate reality plot as long as neither actually appear in the film.

4. A-Force film following the series written and drawn by G. Willow Wilson, Marguerite Bennett and Jorge Molina. 

https://generationwhy2016blog.wordpress.com/2016/10/16/a-force/

5. Valkyrie & Sif buddy film: I don’t actually care about the plot of this film as long as no male superheroes show up. Bounty hunters taking down violent men could be fun though.

6. A Spider Gwen film – an origins film that examines how gender impacts Spider Gwen’s ability to help people. This list is all about the women but Miles Morales deserves a film too.

7. The Women of Wakanda which absolutely needs to be based on Roxane Gay’s books. And not just because someone at Marvel/ Disney might remember to invite her to the movie premier. Although that would help.

8. Batgirl: I‘d quite like an a film in which all of the women who become Batgirl work together. I know the animated Mystery of Batwoman film has 3 women working together as one, but these women deserve a proper film which explores their relationships with each other.

9. Gotham Academy: teenage superheroes with raging hormones? What could go wrong?

 

*All the art here is by my daughter. You can find all her artwork on her blog Generation Why?, which is named after the first Ms Marvel book featuring Kamila Khan.

 

Suggestions from @MogPlus:

Everyone Knew: The Harvey Weinstein Allegations – my new project

https://www.the-pool.com/news-views/latest-news/2017/43/a-comprehensive-list-of-every-weinstein-allegation-so-far (via @amysoandso)

Everyone knew.

We hear this over and over and over again. Every single time a male actor, athlete, musician, artist, politician, chef (and the list goes on) are alleged to be perpetrators of domestic and sexual violence and abuse, the refrain is “oh, everyone knew”.

Somehow ‘everyone knew’ about the multiple allegations of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape surrounding Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein; allegations that go back decades. Yet, no one (read men) in positions of power followed even the most basic protection regulations and laws around sexual harassment and sexual violence.

Everyone also ‘knew’ about Jimmy Savile’s predatory behaviour to children and women. Despite multiple allegations made to numerous people supposedly responsible for child protection and multiple reports to police, the media still didn’t want to publish the clear evidence of Savile’s sexually predatory behaviour. Even after he died. Everyone knew; no one talked.

The original plan of Everyone Knew was to list only those men for whom allegations had become public in the immediate aftermath of Rowan Farrow’s expose of Harvey Weinstein’s crimes. However, it soon became clear that it was a false division. Part of the reason for including men like Charlie Chaplin and Roman Polanski, whose crimes go back decades, is to show just how ubiquitous this level of entitlement is and just how many men are perpetrators – men who did not suddenly become perpetrators when named in the press.  We talk about Harvey Weinstein as though it was a watershed point. The simple truth is the complete opposite. These ‘watershed’ moments are continuous and constant. We need to keep pushing back on the silencing of women and children. And, we need to stop pretending that naming Weinstein will change everything. We have been here before and it hasn’t. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t fight back. We must. Otherwise the abuse will still continue – unnamed because we already ‘solved’ it.

Many of the men named in the past month as alleged perpetrators were business associates or friends of men who already had a documented history of inappropriate and illegal behaviour. A significant number had worked with Harvey Weinstein. Allegations about Academy Award winner Ben Affleck only became public recently, however, his younger brother Casey was the subject of two sexual harassment complaints in 2010. Ben knew about these allegations and, along with long-time friend and collaborator Matt Damon, used his status as a shield for his younger brother. Allegations about the behaviour of Brett Ratner resulted in allegations about his long-time friend Russell Simmons. Allegations about Harvey Weinstein raised allegations about the behaviour of his brother  Bob, who is accused not only of sexual harassment himself but of helping cover up Harvey’s crimes. A number of these lists also list fashion photographer Terry Richardson as a ‘new’ allegation because the publisher Conde Nast has chosen to stop working with him this past month. The fact that Conde Nast knew of the multiple allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault levied against Richardson in 2010 has been erased in favour of ‘watershed moment’ media coverage.

Over the years, feminist activists and journalists have campaigned for boycotts of celebrity men with a history of violence against women and girls.  The sheer number of allegations and the multiple perpetrators named in the past month make it difficult to keep track.  This is why Everyone Knew was born. It will be a database of convicted perpetrators, as well as naming men who are alleged to be perpetrators. You can find the list here; it is not complete and may never be as many predators will continue to use the their money and their power to silence victims. I have also built sub-categories of employment and industry to show that this is more than just ‘Hollywood’ or some rogue US senators.

You can follow us at @EveryoneKnew17 & #EveryoneKnew

As with many feminist projects, I created this database without external financial support. If you can afford to donate £1 to help continue this project, I would be incredibly grateful.

David Bowie and the issue of statutory rape

*** note*** I wrote this the day David Bowie died. I took it down after months and months of rape threats. I’m republishing now, with more links to media coverage of Bowie’s involvement with the ‘baby groupies’ scene.

 

In the 1970s, David Bowie, along with Iggy Pop, Jimmy Page, Bill Wyman, Mick Jagger and others, were part of the ‘Baby Groupies’ scene in LA. The ‘Baby Groupies’ were 13 to 15 year old girls who were sexually exploited and raped by male rock stars. The names of these girls are easily searchable online but I will not share them here as all victims of rape deserve anonymity.

The ‘Baby Groupie‘ scene was about young girls being prepared for sexual exploitation (commonly refereed to as grooming) and then sexually assaulted and raped. Even articles which make it clear that the music industry ” ignor(ed), and worse enabl(ed), a culture that still allows powerful men to target young girls” celebrate that culture and minimise the choices of adult men to rape children and those who chose to look away. This is what male entitlement to sexual access to the bodies of female children and adults looks like. It is rape culture.

David Bowie is listed publicly as the man that one 14 year old girl ‘lost her virginity’ too.

We need to be absolutely clear about this, adult men do not ‘have sex’ with 13 and 14 year old girls. It is child rape. Children cannot consent to sex with adult men – even famous rock stars. Suggesting this is due to the ‘context’ of 70s LA culture is to wilfully ignore the history of children being sexually exploited by powerful men. The only difference to the ‘context’ here was that the men were musicians and not politicians, religious leaders, or fathers.

The basic requirement for a good person is taking responsibility for their choices and the consequences of their choices. At no point has Bowie, or another of the men involved in the sexual exploitation and rape of ‘baby groupies’ has taken responsibility for the consequences. I have yet to see a statement saying, “I participated in this culture. I hurt children by participating in this culture and I apologise to the children I abused and those whose abuse I ignored.” A man with Bowie’s financial wherewithal could have taken the second step and donated funds to rape crisis centres, funded programs working with vulnerable children at risk of sexual exploitation.

It is perfectly reasonable and rational to mourn a man whose music made a huge impact on your life. It is neither reasonable nor rational to pretend that that person was a ‘god’ and erase their illegal and unethical behaviour because you love their music. I wrote my undergraduate thesis and first MSc to the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s album Californication. That one album has had a positive impact on my life and I still play when working. I’ve since read Anthony Kiedis’ memoir Scar Tissue and know now that he has a history of sexual exploitation of teenage girls. I had been under no illusions of his misogynistic behaviour before reading the book, but I was not aware of the full extent.

David Bowie was an incredible musician who inspired generations. He also participated in a culture where children were sexually exploited and raped. This is as much a part of his legacy as his music.

 

 

 

#womenwrites: women in prison, leftist dudebros, & male bumblers

86 percent of women in jail are sexual-violence survivors, by Rachel Leah

According to a recent study, 86 percent of women who have spent time in jail report that they had been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. As well, while women represent just 13 percent of the jail population between 2009 and 2011, they represented 67 percent of the victims of staff-on-inmate sexual victimization. Sexual violence is so pronounced among jailed and incarcerated women that Sen. Cory Booker, (D-NJ,) labeled the overarching phenomenon as “a survivor-of-sexual-trauma to prisoner pipeline.”

These numbers come from the Vera Institute of Justice, which authored a survey last year titled “Overlooked: Women and Jails in an Era of Reform.” Given the rising numbers of incarcerated women, specifically in local jails, and the lack of research on them, the Institute wanted to examine who those women were and what adversities they faced. Other findings were equally alarming as those above.

Two thirds of the women in jail are of color, and the majority of that population is also low-income. Further, nearly 80 percent of the incarcerated are mothers, most of them raising a child without a partner. Eighty-two percent were incarcerated for nonviolent offenses, while 32 percent have serious mental illness and 82 percent suffer from drug or alcohol addiction. Finally, 77 percent of those polled were victims of partner violence and and another 60 percent experienced caregiver violence. …

The myth of the male bumbler, by Lily Loofbourow

Male bumblers are an epidemic.

These men are, should you not recognize the type, wide-eyed and perennially confused. What’s the difference, the male bumbler wonders, between a friendly conversation with a coworker and rubbing one’s penis in front of one? Between grooming a 14-year-old at her custody hearing and asking her out?

The world baffles the bumbler. He’s astonished to discover that he had power over anyone at all, let alone that he was perceived as using it. What power? he says. Who, me?

The bumbler is the first to confess that he’s bad at his job. Take Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who testified Tuesday of the Trump campaign’s foreign policy team, which he ran and which is now understood to have been in contact with Russian agents: “We were not a very effective group.” Or consider Dave Becky, the manager of disgraced comedian Louis C.K. (who confessed last week to sexual misconduct). Becky avers that “never once, in all of these years, did anyone mention any of the other incidents that were reported recently.” One might argue that no one should have needed to mention them; surely, as Louis C.K.’s manager, it was Becky’s job to keep tabs on open secrets about his client? Becky’s defense? He’s a bumbler! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ …

“Dear Men on the Left,” by @GappyTales

It was sometime in 2006 that I remember sitting on my sofa, watching George Galloway pretend to be a cat. Enthralling and disturbing in equal measure though it was, (poor Rula) it was not what struck me about the man. Lodged in my mind far more firmly are the comments he made regarding fellow housemate and glamour model, Jodie Marsh: that perhaps some might feel it sexist, but he believed deep down she likely longed for nothing more than a quiet life of marriage and motherhood. I remember I gasped in disbelief. Had he really just said that? The man on the left beside me didn’t even flinch.

I wish I could say that were the first time it had dawned on me that some men supposedly on my side were not, but the instances are too many to name. The tale of one visiting man, loaded into a shopping trolley and forcibly wheeled off site by exasperated Greenham women, was a staple of my childhood. …

The Westminster Allegations Redux.

Michael Fallon lunged at me after our lunch, by Jane Merrick

When the story first broke last weekend that a secret list of “sex pest” Conservative MPs and cabinet ministers drawn up by researchers was circulating in Westminster, I decided to talk about my own experience of being lunged at by a Tory MP. By publicly discussing how it felt to be in that position, and how it was not acceptable, I thought it would help others to come forward to report sexual harassment. Yet because my incident happened 14 years ago, I decided not to name the MP in question.

A week on, things have changed. The MP has denied some allegations against him, and minimised others as somehow acceptable because they date from another time. His lack of contrition has made me change my mind. It is time for me to say publicly that the MP who lunged at me was Sir Michael Fallon. …

Bex Bailey, Labour activist, says she was raped at party event and told not to report it, by Rowena Mason, Anushka Asthana and Matthew Weaver

Allegations of sexual misconduct in Westminster took a new turn on Tuesday as a Labour activist spoke of being raped at a party event after a woman had described being assaulted on a hotel bed by an MP last year.

The two women both criticised the lack of proper processes for reporting their allegations, as political parties struggled with a fifth day of serious revelations about harassment and abuse in British politics.

The second woman, who said she was sexually assaulted by an MP on a hotel bed last year, criticised as “inadequate” proposals announced by the government on Monday aimed at enhancing existing reporting systems in parliament.

The Westminster staffer, who works for another MP and asked to remain anonymous, said there needed to be a “credible independent body” to investigate complaints about politicians’ behaviour that was not connected to the parties. …

Damian Green denies making sexual advances towards young Tory activist, by Matthew Weaver*

Theresa May has ordered an investigation into allegations that her deputy, Damian Green, made inappropriate advances to a female activist in the last two years.

Kate Maltby, who is 30 years younger than Green, the first secretary of state, told the Times he had “fleetingly” touched her knee during a meeting in a Waterloo pub in 2015 and sent her a “suggestive” text message after she was pictured wearing a corset in the newspaper.

Green, one of May’s closest political allies, said any allegation that he made sexual advances to Maltby was “untrue [and] deeply hurtful”.

One Tory MP has called for Green to be suspended while the allegations are investigated. Green is the most senior politician yet to be caught up in a wave of allegations and rumours relating to sexual harassment and abuse swirling around Westminster. …

This is why I came forward with my experience of sexual harassment by an MP – anonymous testimony

I am a member of the Labour Party. I was a delegate for my local CLP at the Labour Party Conference this September. I am a Corbyn supporter, a feminist and an activist. And I am also the anonymous woman who has lodged a complaint with the Labour Party over the inappropriate actions of an MP who “squeezed” my bum at our incredible conference in Brighton.

Of course, for the past few days the final statement has eclipsed all the others. Because that is how this works. It is the “bum squeezes”, the “knee touches”, the “lift lunges”, the “handsiness”, and then of course the denials, the silencing, the gaslighting that inevitably follow, this is the arena in which men keep women (and sometimes other men) in our bodies and, ultimately, in our place.

Was I traumatised by having my bum squeezed at conference? Of course not. Do you honestly think a bum squeeze gets anywhere near the list of the ways in which men have violated my boundaries, used their and my body against me to exert a subtle, or sometimes violent power over me? …

BBC News – Lib Dem member ‘referred to police over rape allegation’ 

The allegations emerged in a series of tweets over the weekend, which claimed an alleged victim’s complaint had been “hushed up” by party HQ.

The party said a member was suspended “pending the outcome” of a police probe but gave no further details.

It is the first allegation involving the Lib Dems in the misconduct scandal currently engulfing Westminster. …

Kate Malby wrote about her experience of sexual harassment for The Times. Unfortunately, it is behind a pay wall. You can find it here. 

This is the current list of Westminster sexual misconduct allegations: the MPs accused so far, written by Haroon Siddique for the Guardian. Here is a collection of articles I collated last week:

https://storify.com/EVB_Now/sexual-harassment-in-westminister

Transing children & the myth of an unbiased medical establishment

This is part II of a series on radical feminism and transgenderism. The first, The Conservative Gendered Stereotyping of Children, Radical Feminism and transgenderism’ is available here.

 

I have many concerns about the current push to medically transition children because of sex-based stereotyping as I outlined here in the case of a child whose mother was terrified he was gay – on the say so homophobic relatives. As a radical feminist, I view gender as socially constructed upon the material reality of female and male bodies. It is also, in the words of Claire Heuchan, a “hierarchy imposed by men to ensure their dominance over women’. Gender, as a theoretical concept, is inherently harmful. As a ‘reality’, it is responsible for the oppression of women globally through FGM, domestic and sexual violence and abuse, pornography, prostitution, and femicide. Women are not oppressed because they identify as female; women are oppressed because men construct women’s biological sex as ‘inferior’ and women themselves as possessions. As Marina Strinkovsky writes,

if gender is real and biological sex a social construct, if sex is not a “real” and meaningful political or economic category, on what basis did the parents of the hundreds of millions of women and girls lost to femicide know who to kill?”

This question seems perfectly reasonable: how do we decide which foetuses should be aborted and what humans to pay less if not through the material reality of biological sex. Yet, this question is considered ‘transphoic’. Any questioning of gender theory is met with abuse and threats. Suggesting children might not be capable of deciding about medical care is met with derision in cases of transgender children, but not children undergoing treatment for diseases such as cancer. There is a double standard here that needs to be explored more fully and we absolutely need more research into the way in which mental health diagnoses or suicide risks are defined within the transgender movement. However, in this essay I want to focus specifically on gender identity and the theory of an unbiased medical establishment.

Personally, I find the idea that a child born with a penis *must* be a girl if he plays with a doll or wears sparkly shoes and that a child born with a vagina must be a boy if she plays with toy cars completely insane. A 2 year old plays with toys. They have no idea what is a ‘boy’s toy’ or a ‘girl’s toy’ is without being told by their parents, extended family or peers. It is utterly ridiculous that we have now arrived at a point where a 2 year old is deemed competent to define their own ‘gender’ when we don’t allow them to operate heavy machinery, vote, or decide whether or not they are going to wear pants outside when its -20 degrees. There is simply not enough adequate or unbiased research in neurobiology and gender identity to consider a 2 year old or a 12 year old to have gillock competence over their mental health and future reproductive choices. Even if research around gender identity and gillock competence was well-established, I am extremely concerned that we are allowing children to take drugs to prevent puberty on the say so of a supposedly unbiased medical establishment and without rigorous long-term studies that assess patients according to the medical and mental health, particularly looking at how trauma harms child brain development.*

Frankly, even the research into gender dysphoria, which is real, is questionable when we remove sex based stereotypes and children who present as ‘trans’ who grow up to be homosexual. It’s not surprising that surgery to ‘transition’ an adult is considered more acceptable than being homosexual in deeply conservative countries like the US and Iran, where the penalty for being gay is death.

Since any discussion of the potential consequences of puberty blockers or gender dysphoria in general is met with cries of ‘transphobia’, pharmaceutical companies and various medical professionals  have been given carte blanche to claim puberty blockers are safe with no real research into the long-term effects of these drugs on children.

Perhaps it is my natural cynicism but I find the faith in an unbiased medical establishment deeply bizarre. This is not to say that gender dysphoria is not real. It is fairly clear that dysphoria exists and causes severe distress to many people. However, the huge growth in young people presenting with dysphoria who are given medical interventions without investigating how they came to believe they were trans is concerning.

Even if we ignore the recent scandals involving transvaginal meshes, the links between baby powder and ovarian cancer, the profit before people policies as seen in the recent price gouging in the sale of epi-pens and AIDS drugs, the well documented racist and sexist history of birth control, and the use of lobotomies to treat mental illness, it is completely unethical to push a medical ‘cure’ when there is very little research on the long term consequences of that ‘cure’ when delaying puberty or promoting chest binding in girls.

The clear history of the medical and pharmaceutical industrial complex in prioritising profit over people should have us questing the motivations of all involved – mostly how much money they will make claiming 10 year olds need puberty blockers and that surgery is necessary to decrease the rate of suicide in transgender people when it appears that the rate of suicide attempts and death remain the same both pre and post-surgery.** In the context of the US, where many people have no health insurance, and the number of people in the UK who travel to Thailand and other jurisdictions that have less over sight of the medical establishment, it is absolutely essential to follow the money.

We need more research into the rise in gender identity and gender dysphoria before assuming that pharmaceutical companies and doctors *always* have the best interests of their patients at heart. We need to investigate who gets rich through research and through medical practise. We need more research into why so many children are transitioning – and how this is impacted by homophobia from family and peers. We need more research around the links between child sexual abuse, trauma and transition. We need more research why some people regret transition, particularly those post-surgery, a question that is currently deemed ‘transphobic’.***

I have very little faith in the medical and pharmaceutical industrial complex to commit to research that does not make them rich. And, right now, the industry is making a whole lot of money off people with simply not enough evidence to support the first commandment of doctors: do no harm. This is without discussing the homophobia inherent in insisting that 2 year old boys who play with dresses have to be a girl and not a) a normal child; or b) gay  (as though we could guess sexuality on a child who has no idea what sex or relationships are). Children should not be used as medical experiments outside of strictly controlled trials – like the ones used to investigate how to manage pain in premature babies of the effectiveness of certain treatments for diseases – and never by your local GP.

People who have gender dysphoria have the right to access safe medical and pharmaceutical support. At this point, we don’t have enough evidence that ‘safe’ exists and is monitored appropriately. Call me cynical, but companies who sell drugs at hugely over-inflated prices aren’t going to be the ones who will do such research without a financial incentive.

Follow the money to unravel the myths is as true in research into pornography and prostitution, as it is in medical transition. We simply aren’t doing this.

 

*A number of high profile male to female trans women have spoken publicly about their experiences of child sexual abuse.

** This article published by The Conversation is worth reading: “FactCheck Q&A: was Lyle Shelton right about transgender people and a higher suicide risk after surgery?”.

***I would also like to see more long term studies on the rates and types of violence perpetrated by male to female trans and its relation to men who do not have dysphoria. The only real research at this point is a Swedish study that suggests trans women have the exact same rate of violence as men.

 

Bibliography

Deborah Cameron, A brief history of ‘gender’, (2016)

Delilah Campbell, Who owns gender , (2015)

Catherine Drury, ‘Gender dysphoria in children’,  (Fair Play for Women, 2017)

Jeni Harvey, The Misogyny Of Modern Feminism, (2017)

Claire Heuchan, ‘Sex, Gender, and the New Essentialism, ‘  Sister Outrider, (2017)

Claire Heuchan, ‘The Problem That Has No Name because “Woman” is too Essentialist‘, Sister Outrider, (2017)

Claire Heuchan, Binary or Spectrum, Gender is a HierarchySister Outrider, (2017)

Jane Clare Jones, You are killing me: On hate speech and feminist silencing, (2015)

Nymeses, Being Told You Have Gender Dysphoria as a Lesbian, (2016)

Thain Parnell, ‘Transition is no casual matter, and we need to talk about those who regret it’,  (Feminist Current, 2017)

Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, ‘Trans issues and gender identity’, (Sex & Gender: A Beginner’s Guide, 2015)

Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, ‘The idea that gender is a spectrum is a new gender prison’, (Aeon, 2016)

RootVeg, ‘Gender is socially constructed upon a material reality’ , (2015)

Victoria Smith, ‘Anorexia, breast binding and the legitimisation of body hatred’ (New Statesman, 2016)

#DickheadDetox: The Weinstein Years

It’s been a few years since I’ve written a post tracking abusive celebrity men under the tag #DickheadDetox. The origins came from an article by Eva Wiseman in the Guardian about holding violent male celebrities accountable:

“It’s to do with my problem giving money to dicks, to people who’ve punched their wives or broken their teeth. It’s to do with linking the things they’ve done to the things they’ve made. It’s a rule I’m currently formalising – I’m turning off the TV when abusers appear. I’m leaving shops where their songs dribble from the PA; I’m turning off the radio. Like a juice cleanse. A dickhead detox. And it feels good.”

I’ve been trying to do this, however avoiding financially supporting artists with a history of violence against women and girls is much easier than avoiding those who collude with them by minimising their crimes. Or continuing to work with abusers. You only have to look at the careers of Woody Allen and Roman Polanski. And, now, Harvey Weinstein.

Harvey Weinstein’s actions are not an aberration. He is not an isolated incident.

Harvey Weinstein is the product of a white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy which requires women to pass the patriarchal fuckability test whilst holding them accountable for the rape and abuse they experience.

If Harvey Weinstein was an aberration, Roman Polanski would not have gotten a standing ovation at the Oscars; sexual harassment in schools would not be increasing in astronomical numbers; and, the majority of rapists would be in prisons having been found guilty of their crimes. Instead of the exact opposite.

The women who have been sexually harassed, assaulted and raped by Harvey Weinstein have been brave in speaking out knowing precisely what the punishment is for holding violent men accountable: being labeled liars and harassed and abused online.

Rape culture is a victim blaming culture and a culture of enabling violent and abusive men. Weinstein’s victims are already being berated for not speaking out sooner to ‘protect’ other women – as though they would have been believed. It is very clear that many, many men in Hollywood knew about Weinstein and did nothing – men who had the clout to refuse to work with him. Men who control the very media companies that could have reported the crimes. Instead, Weinstein is pretending to have a “sex addiction” – the new go to excuse for rapists.

The women Weinstein targeted were famous, young, vulnerable, and equally the daughters of powerful actors. The way Weinstein targeted these women reads like the various Jimmy Savile inquiries: powerful men given access to victims with the active collusion of some and the refusal of others to take a stand. And, the inquiries into the sexual exploitation of girls involved in gymnastics. Children living in care homes. Slate has created a timeline of Weinstein’s known criminal acts starting in 1990, which is distressing in the similarity of experiences. There are many women whose names are not recorded here as they are not in a position to speak out publicly or have chosen not to. Considering how long Weinstein has been assaulting women, it is clear that the number we see now are only the tip of the iceberg.

The #DickheadDetox is about refusing to financially support celebrities. This list is those who originally made my list for male violence against women and girls.

And, a significant chunk of the cast of the film The Expendables 3.

Richard Dawkins got a mention in the original #DickheadDetox for misogyny and rape apologism; Donald Trump for being a white supremacist (before the allegations of sexual assault and rape were made public); Clint Eastwood is also on the list for racism; and Owen Jones is there for whining. Constantly. Perez Hilton got a special mention for daily misogynistic drivel (see also: Jeremy Clarkson and Christian Jessen). The hypocrisy of left-wing dudes is as tedious as it is ubiquitous (see Thomas Gibson and Russell Brand) with the Affleck brothers trading on their status as liberals to erase their history.

The updated list now features:

Quentin Tarantino gets a mention for whining about potential damage to his career for covering up the well documented criminal history of Harvey Weinstein. Matt Damon also gets a mention for covering up the crimes of Casey Affleck (not to mention the whole whitesplaining racism and diversity to a Black woman). Brad Pitt is on the list for knowing about Weinstein but doing nothing to stop him.

Then there is this list, by Beth Winegarner, which includes male celebrities whose history of violence I was unaware of including: Jim Carrey (domestic violence), James Deen, Rob Lowe (sexual harassment), Dudley Moore (domestic violence), James Caan (domestic violence) Billie Dee Williams (domestic violence), Oliver Stone (sexual harassment), Brett Ratner (sexual assault), and Arnold Schwarzenegger whose history of sexual harassment did not prevent him from becoming governor of California.

Carrie Fischer’s last book The Princess Diarist includes her ‘affair’ with Harrison Ford, which started during the filming of Star Wars. A number of male crew members had pushed Fisher into drinking too much at a bar and then tried to take her out of the building. Ford sees this and ‘rescues’ Fisher only to have sex with her instead. This incident received a lot of publicity after publication, but none focused on the inability of an incapacitated vulnerable 19 year old to consent to an encounter with a man 14 years her senior.

There has also been some interesting stories around Tom Cruise and his divorce from Katie Holmes. The Daily Mail, and other gossip sites, are claiming that Holmes had to sign a clause prohibiting her from  ‘publicly dating’ until 5 years after the divorce. There were allegations of coercive control throughout the marriage; always attributed to an ‘anonymous source’. Holmes has primary custody of their only child, who apparently went three years without seeing her father. Cruise’s children from his first marriage to Nicole Kidman remained in Cruise’s physical care following that divorce. Cruise’s name very rarely appears on lists of violent men, but there is a documented history of actions that constitute coercive control.

I had stopped writing entries to the #DickheadDetox because of my mental health. I stopped because it become overwhelming recording so many men. I’ve written very little over the past 2 years and it has taken me 8 hours to write this through panic attacks. I needed to write it.

Harvey Weinstein is not an aberration. Women telling their stories of sexualised violence is not unusual either. Yet, somehow this feels like a tidal wave has been dented. Not stopped. But dented enough for women to feel safe recording their experiences. Where this goes depends on men listening and standing up for women. Right now it feels like we may have a chance.

 

 

*I’m using both domestic abuse and domestic violence because the terms reflect the legal status of the crime in the jurisdictions in which the men were charged.

** None of these men were convicted of child rape. But, that’s because we live in a society that celebrates male violence and doesn’t give a shit about children.

*** I dislike using the term ‘alleged’ since it implies the victim is a liar. I believe victims. The criminal justice system and the laws around libel do not.

Michael Beck: Why labelling men who kill as ‘non-violent’ is irresponsible journalism

Screen Shot 2017-08-26 at 09.06.42Every single week, 2 men in England and Wales make a choice to kill their current or former partner. Despite the fact that these men consistently have a history of domestic violence, the media insists on reporting comments from random neighbours claiming that these men are ‘caring fathers‘, ‘loving brothers’, ‘quiet neighbours’,  and, as above, ‘non violent’. Men who choose to kill are violent. It’s pretty much the definition of the word since murder is an inherently violent act. As a culture, we refuse to recognise that coercive control is a choice made by men who believe they are entitled to own women and children, and that men who kill are not aberrations, but representative of the consequences of patriarchy.

The Guardian’s coverage of the murder of Nicola Beck by her husband Michael Beck is a quintessential example of how not write about male violence. It insinuates that Nicola’s request for a divorce was irrational because Michael did want it and, therefore, Michael’s choice to murder was rational. They quote Michael’s brother-in-law Hugo Peel who said this at the inquest:

” … Beck was a gentle man. …He had a sort of hope in his heart that he could repair the damage. He was not a violent man, quite the opposite. … He was not courageous in social interaction or dealing with issues. He would walk away from confrontation, he felt unequipped to deal with confrontation.”

Family members and neighbours frequently do not see the violence women are forced to live with. Perpetrators tend to be highly manipulative and very careful with their behaviour around other people. It’s not at all uncommon for close family members and friends to have no idea just how violent a man is. Publishing these types of quotes without making the context of how perpetrators operate clear obscures and elides the reality of male violence against women and children. This is particularly important in the context of Peel suggesting Michael was incapable of dealing with confrontation as it implies, once again, that Michael had no choice; that he lacked the skills to recognise Nicola as a person and so was forced to kill her. It is utterly irresponsible for The Guardian to have published this statement.

The most dangerous time for a woman who has an abusive and controlling partner is when she tries to end the relationship. The risk of physical and sexual violence increases and this is the point when women are most likely to be murdered, frequently with their children, or when children are murdered to punish their mother. It should go without saying that a neighbour, whose entire relationship with a perpetrator is saying hello when putting out the rubbish for collection, or a family member who has not witnessed violence or controlling behaviour themselves, are not in a position to make evidenced judgments about whether or not a man is gentle, good, or kind. Media who report these types of statements are engaged in bad journalism completely lacking in research or reality.

This is a copy of Michael’s suicide as it was published in The Sun (who themselves concentrated on the Beck’s financial status rather than the murder, because it’s more important to note that Michael was rich rather than recognising the life of Nicola). Generally, we do not support the publishing of suicide letters. We have made an exception in this case because the letter is not only a suicide letter but a defence of murder.

Screen Shot 2017-08-26 at 10.54.41

The Sun’s coverage is as senstionalist as one expects of the tabloid press. The Guardian uses less emotive language, but it also glosses over the evidence of Beck’s clear history of entitlement and financial control as written in his suicide note:

“I have spent my entire life fighting over money”

Yes, Michael was a stockbroker, but this quote is in relation to his marriage and not his career. It is not normal to spend one’s life “fighting over money”. The Guardian do quote the assistant Devon coroner, Lydia Brown, who makes it clear that financial control was part of the motive for this murder, without contextualising financial abuse as a form of coercive control. This is without the issue of Michael defining murder as ‘grubby’ and demanding his family punish Nicola’s family.

Where the Guardian truly failed was at the end of the article. They included the hotline phone number for the Samaritans (116 123, UK) but did not include the National Domestic Violence Hotline (0808 2000 247). The Samaritans media guidelines make it absolutely clear that the number should be included in any media coverage of suicide, but this was not just a case of suicide. Michael Beck clearly had a history of domestic violence and this was a murder where coercive control was a defining factor as Michael felt justified in killing Nicola because she tried to escape his abuse. The feminist organisation Zero Tolerance have written a comprehensive media guideline for reporting violence against women and girls that require the inclusion of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Granted, Zero Tolerance’s guidelines are 42 pages long, however the The National Union of Journalists have written a 3 page media guideline on reporting violence against women and girls for those journalists unwilling to take out 15 minutes of their day to do some basic research. The NUJ make it very clear that it is essential to include the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

The question is: why did The Guardian prioritise the Samaritans hotline? And, why did they fail to recognise that this murder was a consequence of male entitlement and coercive control? When will mainstream media start to recognise that murder-suicides are almost always a consequence of domestic violence? That victims of domestic violence matter as much as people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts? That men who kill their children and/or current or former partners are not victims but perpetrators? Because the failure to include the National Domestic Violence Hotline implies that Michael is more deserving of respect and empathy than his victim. And, this is not an aberration but part of the conducive context in which male violence occurs and part of the continuum of violence against women and girls.

Nicola deserved better from The Guardian.

This was first published by Everyday Victim Blaming on August 27, 217.